Over the past couple of years, a number of people around me have had babies. Thus, not only have I had to adjust to new people in my life and a changed relationship to their parents (not necessarily a bad thing), I’ve also got a closer view of something I never wanted to come close to in the first place: giving birth (definitely Very Bad thing!). It has also been an interesting (if unintentional) study of social behaviour around the process of giving birth and motherhood, but that’s a topic for another time.
Right from childhood, I’ve been instinctively non-maternal. I never coveted dolls except cutting off their hair (and telling the sibling it’d grow back) and pulling off their heads, and later, when I discovered I could be clever-ish with my hands, making them clothes. House-type games with the sibling never saw me as the ‘mother’, but as an androgynous character called Smiley, who was sort of aunt-caretaker-type-person who swooped in, fixed or made things and swooped out. I don’t remember how Smiley was born, but only that I was eminently comfortable in that skin. (Must ask the sibling if they remember any more details.)
As an adult, for the most part, the thought of having kids and how that would impact my life and independence has always been horrifying. I feel I’d be a terrible parent, and I don’t think that to be a bad thing since I have had no intention of being one. This was apart from a short-lived phase when the thought of adopting and raising a child (never giving birth, NEVER!) was somewhat appealing. I can only suppose that it was a result of the relentless shoving down our throat of the message that what all women want is to be mothers. Those who don’t only think they don’t, and eventually life conspires to show them how wrong they were and how fulfilling their hitherto meaningless lives are going to be now that they’ve accepted this universal truth.
For me, the moment of enlightenment came when I fulfilled my long-cherished dream of going to the Lake District in England in 2008, and realized that this was something I wanted to continue doing. It also showed me that I love my life the way it is too much to sacrifice it to raise children. And as the babies have started to pop out around me, I’m so thankful to have got the message when I did!
However, one needs to be particularly short-sighted and thick-skinned not to notice that, according to prevailing wisdom, women past a certain age without having had children are like fish without gills, novels without plots, jokes without a punchline, trains without engines, quilts without the stuffing, cakes without chocolate… in other words: meaningless. And one needs to get used to this benevolent bullying—if I might call it that—if that is a choice one makes, and figure out how to deal with it. It’s a little like how religious people often don’t realize they need to respect atheism—people have had/want/wanted children in many cases don’t realize how those who don’t are just as valid in their choice.
To be fair, I suppose I’m just as limited myself, since the question I cannot get my head around is why women want to give birth! I give you one word: episiotomy—if you don’t know what it is, don’t look it up, for your own sanity; if you do, tell me why, why, WHY you would do something that necessitates your having one!! Oh yes, and here are some other terms that make me cringe on behalf of others: morning sickness; 18-hour labour; dilation; PAIN! Not to mention carrying around an extra load for the better part of the year that you can never put down; not getting enough sleep; not being able to have a lie-in; backaches and swollen ankles; oh and let’s not forget morning sickness; and PAIN.
And the scariest part: there is no exit clause! So, unless you decide early on to put a stop to it, there’s about two decades of your life gone… poof.
This is not to say that women don’t want to have babies! Of course, many do. As do many men, but sadly, that’s not a choice they can exercise (though they do by appropriating other people’s rights, but that’s a different issue). And I’m very grateful to all those women who wanted and exercised their right (one hopes!) to have babies so that you and I and all those we hold dear exist!